OF THE BEGINNINGS OF EARL GODWIN AND HIS CHARACTER

Edgar, king of the English, had a son, Edward, with his first wife, Aelfthyth. After her death he married again and had another son, Athelread. After Edgar’s death, Athelread’s mother feared Edward and arranged that poison should be added to his drinking cup one evening. The plot failed so she hired soldiers to kill him at Corfe Castle. So Athelread became king at the age of twelve and has come down in history as Athelread the Unready – No Counsel, because he chose his counsellors unwisely. He married the sister of the count of Normandy and had two sons, Alfred and Edward. In consequence of the king’s foolishness and slothfulness the land became plagued with Viking attacks and Athelread, not in a position of strength, was forced to give them large gifts to secure peace. One winter Athelread, while out hunting, became separated from his company. As night was falling he came to the hut of a cowherd. He knocked on the door and, seeing his fine clothes, the cowherd allowed him to enter and to spend the night in their poor shelter. The cowherd’s son, by the name of Godwin, ran forward eagerly to see this fine gentleman. Athelread was struck by the lad’s fine features, in contrast to those of his parents. The lad performed the service of pulling off the king’s boots, anxious to do it correctly. Then he went out to clean them and brought them back for the king to put on again. The king was impressed by the speed and care that the boy took over the task. Then he went out to take care of the king’s horse but was soon back again, arranging everything quickly and without fuss, in contrast to the almost uncontrolled panic of his parents. He then went out and killed the fattest goose, without asking his father’s permission, and set his sister to watch it as it cooked over the fire. His father reluctantly concluding that this one bird alone would not be sufficient, he sent Godwin out to kill a chicken. Godwin came back with three. Then he added so much salt pork and cabbage to the meal that his mother wailed in anxiety. As the meal cooked he told the king local stories that he knew to pass the time. As the king went to sleep that night he felt as if he had been as well treated as if he had stayed in the home of one of his nobles rather than the dumb insolence of the peasantry that he had expected. The following morning the king asked Godwin to come back with him and enter his service. Godwin was overjoyed and worked hard to justify the honour. In the process of time Athelread elevated Godwin above those of high birth whom he had come to distrust and created the young man earl of Wessex. His first serious task was to deal with the pirates that were plaguing the coast, which he did ruthlessly and efficiently, returning the land to peace and his name spread far and wide. Leominster priory was home to an order of nuns but Godwin’s son became enamoured of the abbess or possibly the riches of the abbey. Pretending to be ill, he was allowed into the priory to be nursed better but once there set about seducing the abbess until the time was right to abduct her, to the great anger of King Edward. Godwin also was keen on advancing his riches. He desired the rich manor of Bosham but at the time it was owned by Robert of Jumiege, Archbishop of Canterbury. One day he was in the archbishop’s company and, out of nothing, casually remarked, “Lord, do you give me Bosham?” The archbishop was amazed. “I, give you Bosham!” Immediately Godwin fell at his feet and thanked him. Before the archbishop could recover he rushed to Bosham and had his men secure it. When the archbishop went to the king to protest, Godwin explained how it had come about and his supporters all agreed that they had heard the archbishop say, “I give you Bosham.”

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